We once again interrupt our film coverage for a Moon Knight review – episode 2 slows down to deliver exposition, but also gives action and moral ambiguity. 

Spoilers ahead for Moon Knight episode 1.

The first episode of Marvel’s Moon Knight introduced us to the likable and down-on-his-luck Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac). It deftly navigated all of the difficulties faced by a first episode – worldbuilding, character development – and balanced the lore of the series with a good dose of fun. You’ll be pleased to hear that the second episode, which is streaming now on Disney+, does the same.

After Steven’s meeting with Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke), leader of a cult worshipping Egyptian goddess Ammit, he’s become aware of an alter ego lurking within him. Marc Spector is the one who got him into this trouble in the first place, but as he takes over to save Steven from a deadly jackal at the end of the last episode,  we see that he might also be the only one who can get him out of it.

There’s a big change in tone from the previous episode to this one, as Steven is now fully aware of what’s happening to him. Still afraid, but free of the paranoia that plagued him before, he takes on a more active role in figuring out exactly what Marc’s mission is. With the paranoid atmosphere gone, the show feels like it needs something to fill that void. Unfortunately, most of the runtime is devoted to exposition, whether that’s coming from Marc speaking to Steven from the mirror, or from Hawke doing lots of talking about Ammit and her rival Khonshu.

It’s a lot of talking about Ancient Egypt, old deities, and ‘avatars’ (not the blue people, or the anime). Because of this the pace lags, and a lot of the plot feels like an information dump. But it’s also hard to see how this backstory could be effectively revealed in such a short series. It already feels like Moon Knight has started in the middle of the narrative, and needs extra time to go back and show us the beginning. Instead, much of Marc’s past simply gets told in casual conversation. It seems like the aim was for what we hear to be surprising, but it comes across ultimately as lazy writing.

Khonshu in Marvel's Moon Knight

However, beyond all the exposition there’s a genuinely fun and very enjoyable episode here. We get to see more of what Harrow is capable of as a villain, and Steven is thrust into the spotlight in the role of hero. Oscar Isaac has an admirable ability to give a fun, bantering back and forth between himself and, well, himself. He also has a very entertaining fight with an invisible foe, and summons a very suave, unconventional superhero suit. The great thing about this episode is that we see that Steven is more capable than he thinks, even if he’s not quite up to Marc’s standards. He also just remains incredibly likable.

The story the show’s telling is becoming more emotionally and morally complex at this point. We learn more about Marc and his mission, but also about the source of his powers and the personal stakes involved in the whole situation. And the stakes are pretty high. There’s still a certain amount of mystery in Marc/Steven’s past which will no doubt come to light, but from what we currently know he’s already in a life or death situation.

These stakes add a certain amount of tension and excitement, and so does the character’s moral ambiguity. There may be a lot of talking early on, but Hawke’s lines of dialogue are the most memorable and effective. He cunningly plants the seed of doubt in not just Steven’s mind, but ours as well. Who is Marc’s master really? Is he any better than Ammit? Is what Marc’s doing even morally right? These are all questions he slyly poses, and that we can look forward to getting answers to.

While there’s too much talking for it to be up to the premier’s standards, this episode adds depth to the characters of Marc and Steven. The action, when it happens, is fun and entertaining, and the story being set up is definitely interesting. It’s just a shame that we’re told so much, and shown so little.

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